New Teachers: How to deal with Parents and Parent-Teacher Conferences

Dealing with parents can be very stressful for both new and veteran teachers.  Unfortunately, when a parent requests a conference, chances are they are not coming in to talk about how great their child is doing in your class. More commonly, these conferences are scheduled because the student is exhibiting behavior or achievement that is unacceptable.

Your role in these meetings is to simply inform the parents and administrators of the students status in your class. Remember, this student will continue to be in your classroom every day, so you should try not to make any direct accusations or place any blame directly on the student.

Parent-Teacher conferences are usually called for one of three reasons:

Grades. A common reason that a parent might request a conference is that their child is  failing or falling behind in one or more classes. Usually all teachers are invited, and the goal of the conference is to determine why grades are low and what can be done to improve the situation.

Behavior. Unacceptable behavior is the most likely reason for a parent/teacher conference.  If a student is acting out in class, the school counselor or principal will call for a conference as the parents are usually not aware of the situation.  The purpose of these meetings are to notify the parents of the unacceptable behavior, figure out why the behavior is occurring, and to work on a solution.

Updates. The third and usually most pleasant type of conference is the update/checkup. These are usually parents who like to keep close track of their child's academics and will call for a conference if they see a let down or drop in achievement.  These meetings are usually good as they can help head off any problems before they become major issues.

So what should you bring to the meeting?

Once you know what conferences about you should gather up all paperwork pertaining to that student. You want to have proof when you're informing the parents of the students progress and success.

Here's what you should take to the meeting:

Student grades. Bring a copy of your gradebook or a grade print-out so you can show the parents exactly what the student has done in your class.

Documentation. If the conference is about behavior issues, you should bring every note you have made about the student's behavior, documentation of every phone call you made to parents, copies of all detention slips or referrals to the office, and notes on every conversation or  discussion you have had with the student. You should make photocopies of each of these to provide to the parents.

What is your role in the meeting?

Your role is simply to inform. You want to answer any direct questions that the parents may have and you want to be as accurate as possible when telling the parents about their child. It is generally a good idea to allow the principal or counselor deal with any consequences or suggestions.

After the parents have been informed, the final step is coming up with a list of suggestions that can be implemented to help improve the student's behavior or grades. In most cases the principle or counselor will have already come up with a number of suggestions. The solutions suggested during these meetings should place the burden of improvement on the student and the  parents. For example, parents may be asked to set up consequences at home and take a more active role in their towns and learning. You may be asked to  establish stricter monitoring of the student. This could be anything from signing off on weekly progress reports to to coding the parents once a week to regularly update them.

Parent/Teacher/Student conferences do not need to be stressful. Just remember that it's about the student, not you. Be confident, have all the facts, and be honest but not opinionated. If you follow this advice, you'll see that these don't have to be as bad as we sometimes make them out to be.

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Sidney Landers is a high school teacher, interview coach, mentor, and advisor to new teachers. 

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